SEATTLE -- Last year, in the absence of any Seattle presence in the postseason -- yet again -- Mariners fans were fixated on whether Felix Hernandez would win the Cy Young Award.
He did, in a vote that was interpreted as a sign that the staid Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) had seen the sabermetric light. Hernandez won despite a pedestrian 13-12 record, as the electorate correctly downplayed a win-loss mark that was the result of a putrid offense, and rewarded King Felix for his dominance in virtually every other realm.
A year later, the Mariners still aren't involved in the postseason, nor do they have a dog in the awards hunt. But it will still be fascinating to see how the vote goes in some races that are wide open.
In particular, both Most Valuable Player contests and the National League Cy Young appear to be toss-ups. The issue on the table, particularly in the MVP races, appears to be an age-old one: Should the voters favor a player from a playoff team over one from a contender that falls short, and should both supersede a player from a team that never sniffed the playoffs?
The beauty of this debate is that, by dictum of the BBWAA, it's entirely up to the voter. The first sentence of the instruction letter sent to MVP voters reads: "There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team."
Postseason awards will be unveiled during an eight-day period from Nov. 14 through Nov. 22, beginning with the rookies of the year and culminating with the National League MVP.
The debates and second-guessing will commence immediately thereafter.
To start the discussion, here are my picks. Keep in mind that these awards are based completely on the regular season. Postseason performances are irrelevant.
American League MVP
1, Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
2, Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
3, Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
This is a tough, tough call. There seems to be a lot of sentiment for Justin Verlander and his 24 victories, but I thought the lesson of last year's Cy Young coronation for King Felix was that victories aren't the full measure of a pitcher. Verlander had a superb season, and I'm delighted to give him my full support -- for the Cy Young. Curtis Granderson was the other consideration, but his prime calling cards -- the league lead in runs batted in and runs -- are both reliant upon teammates.
I expect criticism for selecting Ellsbury, because of the Red Sox's collapse. But if Jonathan Papelbon gets three outs in the ninth in Game 162, the Sox might have won the World Series. It doesn't detract from Ellsbury's brilliant season, in which he hit .321 with 32 homers and 39 steals, led the league -- handily -- with 364 total bases, and played a great center field. You can't blame him for the Sox's plunge, either; Ellsbury hit .358 with eight homers and 21 RBI in September/October.
In the end, I did give Ellsbury bonus points over Bautista for being involved in a pennant race, because I thought they were close enough that it was a valid tiebreaker.
National League MVP
1, Matt Kemp, Dodgers
2, Ryan Braun, Brewers
3, Joey Votto, Reds
This is another one that really comes down to parsing the word "valuable." All I know is that the letter sent to voters has this as the first rule of voting: "Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense." Kemp had the best season of any National League player, hands down, and his value to his team was unsurpassed. Thus, in this case, I give him the lean over Braun despite the Dodgers finishing out of contention.
AL Cy Young
1, Justin Verlander, Tigers
2, Jered Weaver, Angels
3, CC Sabathia, Yankees
OK, you could quibble about whether Sabathia, James Shields or C.J. Wilson should get the third-place vote. But you could put Anthony Vasquez third, and it wouldn't affect the outcome, because Verlander is going to be unanimous.
NL Cy Young
1, Roy Halladay, Phillies
2, Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
3, Ian Kennedy, D-backs
Another excruciatingly close call. Kershaw led the league in both earned-run average and strikeouts as well as WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), but Halladay plays his home games in a hitters' ballpark and had 19 fewer walks in the same number of innings. I'll use WAR (wins above replacement) as my tiebreaker -- Halladay leads all NL pitchers in both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, the two competing arbiters of the WAR stat.
AL Rookie of the Year
1, Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
2, Eric Hosmer, Royals
3, Mark Trumbo, Angels
I tried to squeeze Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley in there, but I just couldn't do it. It was a pretty deep year for rookies, so apologies to those two, along with Ivan Nova of the Yankees. Hellickson's win-loss record of 13-10 paled in comparison to Nova's 16-4, but all his other numbers were better.
NL Rookie of the Year
1, Craig Kimbrel, Braves
2, Freddie Freeman, Braves
3, Vance Worley, Phillies
Yes, it ended ugly for the Braves, but Kimbrel still had a sensational year, saving 46 games while striking out 127 in 77 innings.
AL Manager of the Year
1, Joe Maddon, Rays
2, Jim Leyland, Tigers
3, Ron Washington, Rangers
Maddon is headed for a unanimous win after guiding the Rays to a miracle comeback for the American League wild-card berth -- all after losing most of his bullpen and star outfielder Carl Crawford.
NL Manager of the Year
1, Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks
2, Tony La Russa, Cardinals
3, Ron Roenicke, Brewers
All three did great jobs, worthy of recognition. Gibson, however, stands out for leading a Diamondbacks team that lost 97 games last year -- and didn't appear to have done much over the winter to change its fortunes -- to the NL West title.